Last year’s Bahrain Grand Prix proved to be one of the most exciting races of 2014 when the Mercedes teammates battled head-to-head, resulting in a win for Lewis Hamilton. Sunday’s event didn’t have quite the same spectacle, but the chess match between Mercedes and Ferrari is becoming ever more interesting as the sport heads to Europe.
Much of the talk this week centered around accusations of Hamilton’s strategy made by Nico Rosberg following the Chinese Grand Prix. In an effort to save his tires, Hamilton reduced his pace putting Rosberg on the defensive to a charging Sebastian Vettel in the Ferrari. It was a clear sign that not only was Rosberg beginning to succumb to the pressure, but Ferrari were bringing the fight to Mercedes.
A much more reserved Rosberg showed up in Bahrain this weekend and it was clear he would need to let his driving do the talking. After an excellent showing in qualifying on Saturday, it was Vettel who shared the front row with Hamilton in pole. Rosberg and Kimi Raikkonen rounded out the top 4. Contrary to what many, including Mercedes had suggested, both drivers followed the same strategy in Sunday’s race.
The start saw Ferrari on the offensive with Raikkonen outpacing Rosberg for 3rd. The remainder of the race would be a tire strategy battle that saw Vettel taking a similar course to the Mercedes drivers doing 2 stints on the softs and finishing on the mediums. Raikkonen on the other hand ran his second stint on the mediums and finished on the softs. It was a strategy that ultimately paid off brilliantly and put the Ferrari driver in a position to exploit Rosberg, who cooked his brakes into turn 1 on lap 56. Raikkonen who was outpacing both Mercedes at that point finished 2nd, his first podium of the season. Vettel’s luck wasn’t as good and after a misstep off track damaged his front wing causing the German to head back to the pits for a replacement. The stop left Vettel behind the Williams of Valtteri Bottas who was having none of the Ferrari. Vettel’s mistake ultimately had him finishing in 5th.
Ferrari executed a brilliant strategy with Raikkonen and his unbelievable pace on the medium tires made for a well deserved podium finish. In many ways Mercedes dodged a bullet on Sunday when during the final lap, Hamilton began having brake issues. Reliability has been a factor for Mercedes before and with Ferrari’s pace, they will be there to exploit each and every opportunity as the season progresses. For every bit as good as Vettel and Raikkonen have been so far this season, Maurizio Arrivabene and James Allison are also hugely responsible for the Ferrari turnaround.
Elsewhere on the track it was more of a GP2 race than anything that corresponded with the battle up front. Apart from Williams, none of the other teams have been able to match the pace of Ferrari in an attempt to challenge the World Champions. After qualifying 6th, Felipe Massa started the race from pit lane but managed to finish 10th after an excellent recovery drive. Daniel Riccardo showed some pace in the Red Bull who’s Renault power unit went kaput meters before the finish line. Christian Horner and Adrian Newey must be loving this very public display of Renault’s “reliability”. You have to feel for Ricciardo who had one hell of a 2014 season. Now he has the opportunity to lead Red Bull and the team are threatening to pull out of the sport completely.
In a very predictable, no less disappointing series of events, Jenson Button was unable to start Sunday’s race due to an ERS failure. McLaren Honda said that had Button started he would have been unable to finish the Bahrain Grand Prix. It’s been an uphill battle for McLaren Honda who have somehow managed to become one of the most likable teams in Formula 1 purely because of how well they’re rolling with the punches. As Red Bull are all too willing to complain to anyone who will listen, the Woking outfit have kept their heads down and steadily improved their pace every race weekend. As any fan of the sport will tell you, seconds equal years in Formula 1 and there’s something to be said about Fernando Alonso finishing just one place (11th) outside of the points on Sunday. What McLaren Honda need is testing and although that won’t happen, the European leg of the season should tell a very different story as the team receives upgrades from the factory and continues to dial in the new chassis.
Overall the Bahrain Grand Prix was an interesting strategic exercise for Mercedes and Ferrari. How fantastic did the sparks look on track? They’re gimmicky yes, but no doubt improve the look of Formula 1. The flyaway races are over for now as the teams head back to Europe for the summer. Can you believe Monaco is nearly a month away? It’s hard to believe how fast this season is moving. See you in Barcelona at the Spanish Grand Prix in 3 weeks.
Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.